The Rapidian

Downtown art venues showcase Michigan's midcentury modern design

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids Art Museum and Kendall College of Art and Design are offering exhibitions centered on the influence of this iconic design period this summer.
The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts' exhibition highlights the influence of midcentury modernism on contemporary art.

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts' exhibition highlights the influence of midcentury modernism on contemporary art. /Courtesy of the UICA

Ticket Prices

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts lists a suggested donation of $5 for non-members.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum's fee is $8 for adult non-members, $7 for seniors and students and $5 for youth.

The Kendall College of Art and Design's gallery offers free admission. 

This summer, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids Art Museum and Kendall College of Art and Design have collaborated to feature exhibitions centered on Michigan's design heritage, specifically the state's role in the development of American modernism.

The Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts' exhibition, entitled “Mid-Century Alchemy,” opened on June 6 and will run through Aug. 17. The Grand Rapids Art Museum's exhibition, “Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America,” opened on May 18 and will close Aug. 24. The Kendall College of Art and Design's exhibition, “Michigan Modern: Killing It,” opened on June 19 and will run through July 19.

The “Michigan Modern” project began at the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. The project joined forces with the Cranbrook Art Museum and a curator from the MpdL Studio to design the original “Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America” exhibition, which premiered at Cranbrook Art Museum in June 2013. The exhibition was then modified to suit Grand Rapids before its debut at the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

“We felt it was important to move the exhibition to Grand Rapids in order to tell the West Michigan story,” says State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway. “We also wanted to call attention to the design tradition in Michigan that continues today.”

Highlighting the state's continuing design tradition is the goal of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts' “Mid-Century Alchemy” exhibition, which features work with ties to the area.

“We wanted to do something that was unique to UICA, in the sense that our mission is to showcase contemporary art,” says curator Alexander Paschka. “What we came up with was to highlight how Michigan midcentury modernism really influences designers and artists that are working today.”

Grand Rapids Art Museum's “Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America” exhibition features a wide array of subjects including furniture, architecture and automobiles.

The “Michigan Modern: Killing It” exhibition at the Kendall College of Art and Design focuses on graphic design and covers both midcentury and contemporary local designers.

Conway and Paschka both cite the thriving automobile and furniture industries in Michigan as part of what made design an important aspect of the state's economy and cultural heritage.

“Once you leave this area and travel to different parts of the country and the world, you start to realize that that is one of the greatest cultural legacies that our state has been able to provide,” says Paschka. “Especially the midcentury movement.”

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